Victoria Whale Watching Report: Orcas, Humpback Whales & More
July 26, 2019
It was a sunny morning on the Juan de Fuca Strait as we cruised west in search of whales and other marine wildlife. As we scanned for the white, misty exhales, splashes and fins of whales. We eventually caught sight of a blow and discovered we were with the largest species of whale in our area- a Humpback!
Humpbacks can be identified individually by their tail flukes. Today we had Anvil, a female humpback with all white on the underside of its tail. We just recently learned that Anvil was a girl! Humpbacks reach maturity around the age of twelve and have a calf every 2 years on average. When they have their calves, they need to nurse them 500 litres of milk each day! Babies gain about 100 pounds every 24 hours. That’s a fast-growing baby whale!
Next, we were off to Race Rocks Lighthouse where a light fog had settled in. That didn’t bother the Steller Sea Lions who were lying lazily on the islets. A fun surprise was the male Elephant Seal who was lying just above the waterline on the boat ramp. Male Elephant Seals reach 6,000 pounds, so they are real giants of the sea! We cruised back to Victoria with great views of Mount Baker towering in the distance.
1 PM TOUR
This afternoon we headed South out into the Juan De Fuca Strait.
We travelled for a short while until we spotted a Humpback Whale just outside of Port Angeles, Washington! We got a couple of looks at this whale’s fluke, but it was going on long dives so we decided to head towards reports of another one. This next one was spending its time very close to the surface and we were able to get lots of great views. After looking at its fluke, we were able to identify this individual as “Anvil”. Each Humpback Whale has a unique fluke in terms of shape, patterns, and amount of white pigmentation. We saw it feeding on its side and got to see the side of its tail coming up above the water. We are fortunate enough to be able to see these animals in our area because this is their feeding grounds! They eat here from Spring until Fall and then will head South for the Winter. The warmer waters in places such as Mexico and Hawaii are their breeding grounds, where they will mate and give birth.
The fun did not end there! We extended our tour today to head to reports of Transient (Bigg’s) Killer Whales. We like to call this a “double creature feature”. Usually we are able to see one species or the other, so it’s special to have seen both today! There were three of these animals and they were moving at speed heading West. There was an adult male present, an adult female and a juvenile. It is quite easy to tell apart the males and females as adults because their dorsal fins look very different. The males have tall, pointy fins that can be 6 feet tall and the females have shorter, curved dorsal fins. The males are always travelling with their mothers, until she dies. They really are the ultimate momma’s boys. The females will also travel with their mothers until they have calves of their own, then they will split off on their own. This type of Killer Whale eats marine mammals, but there are different ecotypes all over the world that have specialized diets! They even speak different languages, so they are unable to communicate or mate. It was such a treat to be able to see them this afternoon.
After spending some time with the Killer Whales, we then headed back to the Cruise Ship after an amazing afternoon at sea!
This breezy afternoon we set out in search the many species of cetaceans that live in the Salish Sea. We were lucky enough to have exciting encounters with two of them!
We began our search about 10 miles south west of Victoria. We were on our way to see some humpbacks when we spotted a small pod of Bigg’s/Transient orcas just east of us. This was the mammal-eating ecotype of killer whale that preys on seals, sea lions, porpoises, whales and other dolphins! As we got closer, it was easy to see the huge 6-foot tall dorsal fin of the male. This was T132, nicknamed Scott, and he was travelling with two females – one of which was T134 “Jan”. Normally, Bigg’s killer whales travel in groups that consist of a mother and her offspring. For this trio, however, no one is certain of their relationship because both Scott and Jan were adults when they were first documented. The best guess is that Jan is over 60 years old, and that Scott is her son and is likely over 50! We got to watch this trio travelling fast through the waves, creating big splashes with every surfacing!
After having a great time with these orcas, we went again to find some humpbacks. We did not have to go far! Only minutes later we were approached by a beautiful female named Anvil.
She came to check us out, meaning we had to turn off our engines! She stayed close for many surfacings, giving us plenty of opportunities to catch a whiff of smelly whale breath! This was a very special and rare encounter – all on her own accord.
It was a breath-taking afternoon to say the least!
Our evening tour aboard the Catalina Adventure headed south towards Race Rocks. We explored the ecological reserve to start our tour in search of Bigg’s killer whales and the many marine mammals that call the area home. We observed the fascinating behaviour of several male Steller sea lions and harbour seals before headed further west to see what we could find.
Shortly after leaving Race Rocks, some keen-eyed guests and naturalist Megan spotted some humpback whales. It was Zephyr and her calf! We had a great experience viewing these two magnificent animals foraging. Zephyr is a 2011 calf of one of our most well known whales Divot (BCX1057). Zephyr’s calf represents the third generation of humpback whales in that matrilineal group.
We continue to be astounded by the amazing return of the humpback whale to the Salish Sea.